Fiction, nonfiction, children’s books and poetry collections – as the book columnist for Fire Island News for the past five years, I’ve reviewed some very fine books. So when Editor Shoshanna McCollum asked me to choose those that stood out and stayed with me, I had a challenge on my hands. What’s a reviewer to do? Knuckle down and do it! Here are some of my curated choices, just in time for good winter reading as well as those seeking last minute gift-giving inspiration!
“The Gargoyle Hunters” by John Freeman Gill, Vintage Books
Part fact, part fiction, funny and sad, “The Gargoyle Hunters” is set in 1973, against the background of urban renewal in NYC. Thirteen-year-old Griffin Watts is an engaging storyteller who goes to many lengths – and heights – to have a relationship with his father, the charismatic Nick. He tools around town in his repurposed Good Humor truck, rescuing (his word for stealing) valuable relics from the city’s finest landmark buildings. Having taught decorative arts for many years, those relics were right up my artifact alley. But that’s not the only reason I liked the book.
The characters are believable, the absent father, the distracted mother; their bizarre behavior at times makes them more interesting. The evocative writing made me care about Griffin and his longing to connect with his father. I even got to like that selfish, self-involved man (almost). The pace is just right; information given, the author moves on to the action – and there’s plenty of that. Those ending scenes with Griffin and Nick in the … Just read the book!
Photography by Susan Kravitz, KMW Studios
Back in the spring of 1976, a few drag queens decided to dress up for cocktails and head over to a restaurant in Fire Island Pines. Though the old-school management served gay clientele, drag was another story altogether. Claiming it was a family restaurant, the owners refused to serve a patron, but it’s not nice to dis drag queen and a Bicentennial-style protest was born! The LGBTQ has been reenacting “invasion” now for more than 40 years. The annual event known as the Invasion of the Pines is documented in Kravitz’s book.
Playful and exuberant, hilarious and high camp – the photographer’s shutter captures the bouffants, boobs and bling. But her gimlet eye goes deeper than the surface, catching the wary, touchingly sad in their leathers and Lycra. Not everyone is having a good time.
And that’s the beauty of the book, the honesty of the photos, and the testimony of folks who were there, giving witness to the years following the Stonewall revolution and the horror of AIDS. Beautiful to look at with oversized glossy pages, the book is informative, and the narrative moving.
“Raise Your Hand” by Alice Paul Tapper, Illustrations by Marta Kissi, Penguin Workshop (Children’s Fiction 4+)
A thoughtful youngster, Alice noticed boys raised their hands in class and answered more than girls. She also became aware that when she gave the wrong answer she was so embarrassed she held back from volunteering again. When she brought the matter up with her Girl Scout troop, she discovered her fellow scouts had the same anxiety about raising their hands and giving the wrong answer. Many were afraid of answering at all.
Through Alice’s efforts, her parents’ encouragement and her Girl Scout troop leader, the Raise Your Hand pledge and patch program was born.
This is a great book for young girls. “… have confidence, step up and become leaders by raising your hands … Even if the answer is wrong you’ll be proud of [yourself] for trying” is a powerful message for all girls who are not speaking up, whether in the classroom or out of it. And, it’s a relatable way of showing how youngsters can go to their parents with a problem, talk it out, and come up with a solution. It’s win-win all around.
“Frozen Charlotte: Poems” by Susan de Sola, Able Muse Press
If you think poetry is too la-de-dah for your taste, come sit by me. I’ve got a little tome that will find a place on your palate.
Here you will find Cary Grant and camels, a birthday party for a piglet, torn lingerie, and a postman who leaves the red rubber bands that had cinched the mail hanging on branches “as though they had grown” there. In “Daniel,” a woman who has lost an infant boy remembers “slips of fingers that would not curl.”
When this poet writes of immigrants her free verse reads more like a story. And what are poems if not shortened stories, packed with emotion and meaning? Her language is accessible. Time and again she had me thinking I know what you mean. But don’t take my words for it; pick up a copy and see for yourself. I think you’ll warm to “Frozen Charlotte.”
All titles are in print and readily available for online purchase.
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